Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Orange and Kumquat Cupcakes

It's a universal fact that we Britons love our tea. If there's ever a problem, no matter how big or small, a cup of tea will surely solve it. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of all of it - should the milk be put in first or last? A slice of lemon in place of the milk? Should there be one teabag in the pot per person and then one for the pot too?
Essentially, it's all down to preference. I will drink any type of tea apart from the regular ones, prefering a slightly floral note as opposed to a greener or smokier one . No milk, no lemon and certainly no sugar. I get my sugar fix from whatever I decide to take with my tea.

Last week, after I had made the candied kumquats, I could resist putting them into some orange cupcakes and sharing them with everyone at work. I am on a bit of a cupcake high - this week I am off on a days cupcake baking course and I could not be more excited. With any luck, I'll be able to post some pictures of what I learn in the next few weeks.

Orange and candied kumquat cupakes (adapted from Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery, makes 12 cupcakes)

For the cupcakes
110g unsalted butter
225g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g self raising flour
125g plain flour
90ml milk
grated zest 1 orange
2tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 batch candied kumquats
For the icing
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
500g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C/ gas mark 4 and line a 12 hole cupcake try with paper cases.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a free standing mixer until pale and smooth.
Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tbsp of the flour and beat well.
Add a third of the flours and beat again. Pour in half of the milk, mix well and add another third of the flour and beat well. Add the remainder of the milk, beat and the remainder of the flour, the orange zest and beat well a final time.
Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, placing a kumquat slice in the centre as a surprise filling if you wish.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
For the icing
Sift half of the icing sugar into a large bowl and beat together with the butter and orange juice until smooth. Gradually sift the rest of the icing sugar over the buttercream and beat again until smooth and creamy. 
Once the cakes are cool, ice with the orange buttercream and decorate with the remaining candied kumquats.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Trip to Birmingham

A few weeks ago, L suddenly realised his passport was close to running out. Just fill in the appropriate form, sign a cheque and send it off, you say?
L of course, has an Italian passport, which means trips to the Italian embassy are in order. But, even then, it's not a simple process - our marriage and M's birth have to be registered, as does our change of address. Once certificates have been authenticated and translated, only then can he make the trip down to Lodon to actually apply for his passport. What a chore it has been - and we're only half was through the process!

L could have made the return journey to the Birmingham embassy in three hours and been home in time for Lunch. But then I am not one to miss out on an opportunity to go and visit the Birmingham food markets.
With M on my back in the papoose, we embraced the crowds and the sights and smells of the stalls. We watched baby lobsters scuttle across the counters of the fishmongers, pulled disgusted faces at the chicken feet at the butchers and listened to the days offers from all of the stallholders. I wished I had taken more cash with me. There were so many new and exciting things to try and many things I couldn't even name. In the end we came home laiden with lemons, tomatoes, kumquats, plantain, figs, purple anya potatoes, radishes and a cho-cho.

We also stepped very briefly into the Bullring shopping centre itself and spent forty-five minutes going up and down the escalators in Selfridges. L had to tear me away from my favourite pair of Louboutin shoes that they were selling for £505.

Thank goodness I don't have a credit card.

While I have plenty of ideas for what I'm going to do with all of these things, the kumquats had to be dealt with first. Of course, a few many have found their way into my mouth, but the majority were candied to be used a few days later, in the recipe that I'll post next time.

Candied Kumquats

50ml water
40g caster sugar
100g fresh kumquats, cut into threes

Place the water and sugar in a heavy medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add the kumquat pieces, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 -15 minutes until the kumquats are tender and a thick syrup has formed around them. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Poured into a sterilised jar, these will keep for up to one month in the fridge.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Leonardo's Rhubarb Obsession

Rainbow Chard.  I love it.
If I see some at the farmer's market I simply cannot buy fewer than two bags. I love it steamed, the younger leaves in a salad, sauted with olive oil and garlic and now like this, with my least favourite vegetable, rhubarb.
I have only recently rediscovered that rhubarb is a vegetable. I'm sure I learnt it a long time ago but pushed it right to the back of my mind. It's a shame, it would have made a great quiz question for the few that I've put together for various family members over the last few years.
L and I sit on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to rhubarb. I would quite happily dig the plant up or just let it go to seed whereas L has been on my case ever since we moved: 'Please could you make a crumble or a pie tonight?' 'Why don't I go and pick some rhubarb for you to cook tonight?'
So I have humoured him and he has had one crumble, some rhubarb and cinnamon muffins, a huge batch rhubarb and custard ice cream for the restaurant and rhubarb stewed with blood orange and some meringues that I whipped up using the egg whites left over from the ice cream. I have also been thinking about making some rhubarb and white chocolate macaroons.
Mostly however I have been freezing the pink stalks ready to use later in the year.
And then of course, on rediscovering that the bitter pink stalks are a vegetable, I decided to use it as much as possible in savoury cooking.
This little contorno is all I've been able to do so far, but as soon as I spotted in it Jamie Oliver's magazine (which I only bought because it was the Italian issue), I knew I had to make it. It was delicious. A sort of Italian sweet and sour. Jamie uses spinach for this, but I think that the chard adds a bit more colour, especially if your rhubarb isn't the bright pink forced kind like mine.

Warm Rainbow Chard and Rhubarb Salad (serves 2)

200g rhubarb, diagonally sliced
40g sugar (I used Xylitol)
1tbsp white wine vinegar
200g rainbow chard, leaves chopped in three
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put the rhubarb and sugar in a large frying pan and add 150ml water. Bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes, until the rhubarb is just tender.
Remove the rhubarb to a serving dish with a slotted spoon.
Add the vinegar to the pan and turn up the heat to reduce the liquid to about 2tbsp. Pour the reduction into a jar and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste.
Put another drizzle of olive oil into the pan and tip in the rainbow chard. Cook until wilted, about 3 minutes, stirring occassionally, before tipping it onto the serving dish with the rhubarb.
Mix the two together a little before drizzling with the dressing and serve warm.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Kitchen Courtyard

The Ponte Vecchio courtyard is looking rather sorry for itself at the moment. The pots are empty and devoid of anything except their compost and a few winter pansies that are leggy and look a little lost having survived the long cold winter we are finally out of.

At this time of year, I start getting excited about the seeds I will sow for the coming summer months.
We will fill most of the boxes with tomato plants, not one of them to produce a red tomato though - only yellow and purple ones here. Last year I also started to experiment with edible flowers and we put nasturtiums, borage and radish flowers in salads.
This year I hope to continue along these lines, perhaps with a few herbs and some alpine strawberries to add to the collection.

For now, this is the courtyard, bare and grey; but we hope to update the pictures over the coming months so you can see the progress and some of our courtyard produce in action.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Just Like Bruno Used to Make....

Pizza is something we indulge in roughly once a fortnight. We all love it. Although we still eat it at the table, it is a less formal meal than usual. No cutlery or napkins, just kitchen roll and the pizza slicer; no tablecloth or tablemats, just our plates the board that the pizza sits on; no water jugs or expensive carefully matched bottles of wine, just a cold Peroni each and of course some juice for M.

Of course, we all have our own favourite topping too - spinach and olives for M; mushrooms, red onion and chilli oil for L and more often than not, four cheeses for me. Each and everytime we have pizza, I make it from scratch. At around four o'clock, you'll find me in the kitchen and a dining chair at my side with my little helper on tiptoes trying to pour the flours into the kitchenaid bowl and stirring the yeast into the warm water. She is the second generation of Hereford-based pizza makers in the Pavi Degl'Innocenti family and already takes the preparation just as seriously as the eating. Though she is not prehaps old enough to understand that its not necessary to eat the preparation before it is cooked.

Nonno Bruno is of course the first generation and is famous throughout Hereford. 16 years as the face of Ristorante Pizzeria Firenze, you know before he speaks that he is Italian and that he takes his food very seriously. A large part of his repertoire is exactly how 'mamma used to make it', although he can definitely claim pizza as his own.

Imagine sitting in the pizzeria with its green walls and informal lively atmosphere watching those famous hands form your dough base and then scatter on your toppings. Children used to clamber up to the marble worktop to get a closer look and sometimes a piece of dough to knead for themselves.

Firenze days are ones that we all treasure, and it shows in the number of people we meet in town who pull us to one side just to ask how Bruno is.

For those of you who ever dined at Firenze, remember this, Bruno's signature pizza, the 'Firenze'? Hand stretched bread dough with tomato, gorgonzola piccante, artichoke hearts, chilli and garlic. Next time you have pizza, try this one, it will become your usual.

Bruno's Firenze Pizza (makes 3 8'' pizze)

For the dough
300ml lukewarm water
7g sachet dried yeast
250g wholegrain spelt flour
250g strong bread flour
1tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
For the chilli oil
vegetable oil
dried chilli flakes
For the topping
up to 6 tbsp tomato passata
1 400g can artichoke hearts in water, drained
250g gorgonzola, piccante if possible
homemade chilli oil
6 cloves garlic

For the chilli oil
Mix together some vegetable oil and chilli flakes in a jar. Do this to your own tastes, put the lid on and give it a good shake. Keep in a cool dark place for 2 months and use as you please.
For the dough
Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle using the back of a spoon.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and leave for five minutes to foam a little.
Pour this into the well along with the olive oil and combine until a dough has formed. Knead for 5 minutes in a free standing mixer until the dough is silky and elastic.
Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for two hours until doubled in a warm place
Preheat the oven to as high a temperature as it will go - gas mark 9/250C.
On a well floured surface, divide the dough into three and roll out each dough ball to 7'' - 8'' onto three lightly greased baking sheets and transfer them over using the rolling pin to help.
To top
Spoon up to 2 tbsp of the passata into the centre of each base and using the back of the spoon, circle the passata around the base until it has covered all but the outer inch of the dough.
Crumble the gorgonzola piccante amongst the pizze and pull apart the artichokes before scattering the leaves onto the top.
Sprinkle with chilli oil to your taste and crush the garlic cloves evenly over the pizze.
Place into the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the vegetables are golden on their edges.
Eat immediately, washed down with Peroni or any other Italian lager.